The trusty methods of attracting attention--a press release, a print ad, a brochure--generated plenty of phone calls for new work when Bethesda Bungalows built its first home in 2005. But five years later the builder’s marketing game is all about the Web. In the age of bloggers and Flickr and Twitter, the Maryland-based company has ramped up its publicity strategies to keep its homes cyber savvy and on top of the troubled housing market. And while a simple sign still sits in front of every new project--a tried-and-true marketing strategy--Web traffic, site hits, and search engine rankings are just as effective at keeping the customers coming.
Website. Next to a well-crafted home, a comprehensive, updated, and easy-to-navigate website loaded with photo galleries is the builder’s most important marketing tool, says Brad Beeson, director of marketing for Bethesda Bungalows, who writes the content, updates the blog, and posts photos to the site himself. A little over a year ago, the firm’s online presence was, at best, mediocre, but with the inception of its “Incredibly Green Home”—a demonstration house that was its first giant leap into green building--the company spent $5,000 of its $25,000 marketing budget for the project on designing a new website that would lure surfers to a bungalow in Bethesda. At the beginning, they spent $1,200 a month on SEO and keeping the website searchable. Now, that figure is down to $750 a month, including assistance with social media (see below).
Search engine optimization (SEO). With the new design came keyword optimization strategies. The company makes sure that bethesdabungalows.com comes up among the first results when any combination of “bungalow builders Maryland” or “green builders in Bethesda” or even “Jeld-Wen green” is typed into a search engine. A website that pops up on the first page of a Google search is key in a keyword culture; the company uses Google Analytics, a free program that tracks website traffic, link clicks, and the top words Internet searchers are trying, to help determine the keywords that need to be incorporated into the site. Beeson receives an update with stats such as how many people are visiting the site, how long they stay, and whether they found the site by a search engine, links from another site, or by directly typing it in. Lately, as consumers have grown wary of the word "green," Bethesda Bungalows has taken to using the term "high performance" to label its homes, and the site's SEO has evolved to reflect that, as well.
Blogging. Web surfers spend six to eight minutes clicking through the construction photos, finished projects, news, and product highlights Beeson posts to the builder’s blog. And every minute spent browsing the site boosts its Google ranking, another great way to ramp up site traffic.
Still, some clients don’t want their floor plans or interior photographs posted on the Internet, and he must consider clients’ privacy preferences before blogging about another beautiful home.
Social networking. Bethesda Bungalows has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, MySpace, MyBlogLog, and FriendFeed. The builder relies on outside team to blazon its Web content over the hottest social networking sites, spreading links and enticing clicks to the Bethesda Bungalows home page.
Signage. Still, it’s not all about online. An attractive sign generates neighborhood buzz. Even a simple one designed in-house with the builder’s name, website, and telephone number, framed and professionally printed, is enough to get more business, says Beeson, who has a graphic design background. The builder clings to this marketing assurance hammered in the lawn out front of every home under construction. “You put the sign out there and all of a sudden you get some phone calls,” says Beeson. “It’s pretty simple.”
Print ads. Other than a full page color ad in Bethesda magazine, Beeson turns down several calls a day from ad space sellers, telling them Bethesda Bungalows’ in-house marketing strategies generate enough work on their own.
Design contests. Entering and winning design contests is great marketing; an award on the blog or homepage builds credibility and generates press. Bethesda Bungalows has racked up several prestigious awards in recent years, including a Merit Award in the 2010 EcoHome Design Awards competition, to spread its name.
Green, incredibly green. In all its marketing efforts, the builder plays up its homes’ eco-friendly features--a LEED-Platinum rating, Energy Star-rated efficiency, low-VOC paints, recycled materials, and so on--to find prospective buyers sold on green homes. Nevertheless, not all clients choose Bethesda Bungalows because its houses are eco-friendly; some just want a beautiful, well-crafted home.
Evelyn Royer is Assistant Editor for Building Products magazine.